Whimsy and Warmth Save the Day
Beany Feldstein delivers a tour de force performance in How To Build a Girl, a comedy based on the novel of the same name by Caitlin Moran. She portrays Johanna Morrigan, a teenage student bursting with literary ambition. She has read every book in the local library, and one entire wall in her small bedroom is covered with photos and information about her diverse “heroes,” including the Bronte sisters, Sigmund Freud, Sylvia Plath, Julie Andrews, Liz Taylor -- plus many others. In her creative imagination, she sees them come alive and even interact with each other in a delightful whimsical way.
One of Johanna’s teachers tries to encourage Johanna by telling her that sometimes less is more where her writing is concerned. But that’s like asking the Atlantic to be a lake instead of an ocean.
Johanna comes from a poor family, and her mom has just had twin boys – so she doesn’t get much attention there. Her dad means well, but he’s busy with his Border collie breeding project. Johanna’s only friend? Her dog.
Severe negative attention comes Johanna’s way when she reads one of her poems on a TV show. Soon after her humiliating performance and being rejected for a Rock writing position, she decides to change her appearance as well as her name. And what a change she makes! Dark-haired Johanna becomes red-headed Dolly Wilde, who wears an outfit reminiscent of the Mad Hatter.
Johanna’s adventures as Dolly go from bizarre to revelatory.
Her growing pains shape Dolly Wilde.
She takes that name not to be mild.
But when she starts critiquing Rock.
She needs to stop her smarmy mock.
“How To Build a Girl” is okay,
Except as junior “Shades of Grey.”
Will Dolly learn a lesson true
and begin seeing life anew?
Beanie seems born to play this part.
She’s funny, poignant and so smart!
Whimsy and warmth come into play
and save this film in their own way.
Directed by Coky Giedroyc (Women Talking Dirty), How To Build a Girl ends up as being one of the best and one of the worst films I’ve seen this year. That only happened to me once before. In 2002, I put David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive on my Top Ten Best list as well as on my Top Ten Worst list. Both of these movies contain scenes that made me fall in love with the film as well as some I didn’t enjoy at all.
What’s a critic to do? Well, I always think the glass is half full rather than half empty, so How To Build a Girl gets a “Thumbs Up” from me. And, oh yes, watch for Emma Thompson's important cameo. She always brightens up the screen.
(Released by IFC; on disc/streaming; and rated “R” by MPAA.)